As country music just keeps betting harder and harder on boring and shiny and stuff that really isn't even country at all, DJ Mike Crow digs his heels even deeper into the red dirt of Texas' country heroes. He created the Honky Tonk Texas show, now hosted by Mark "Hawkeye" Louis on KSCS-FM 96.3. And now Crow's settled in at 92.1 Hank FM, where he hosts Crowman's Honky Tonk Texas Highway for four hours every weekday morning. Live from the Stockyards in Fort Worth, Crow plays The Highwaymen and all who follow in their shit-kicking bootprints.

The choppers parked out front and the death metal roaring in back may be intimidating, but even non-biker non-metalheads get a warm welcome from the bartenders and regulars at Reno's. The drinks are cheap and come in plastic disposable cups that won't send glass shards flying if things get too rowdy. The bands that play are as heavy as they come, ranging from hardcore to grindcore to death metal to thrash. And it was the perfect setting for a biker to pull out a tooth during the Dallas Observer Music Awards showcase last year — where else but Reno's?

Lakewood Landing

It's so dark inside Lakewood Landing no one will ever know if you've been there for one drink or five. "Private" doesn't begin to cover the seclusion you'll find in a booth, but the bar remains social most of the time. Whether you're a regular or a newcomer, you're welcome to join in, enjoy the eclectic offerings of the jukebox and get comfortable. They don't start serving those legendary corn dogs until midnight, and you'll want to be there when they start.

It's as comfortable as your oldest pair of jeans, so it's hard to believe Twilite Lounge has only been open since June. Dark stained wood and warm lighting give it a timeless feel, like somewhere your grandparents might have imbibed. The New Orleans-style back patio beckons even non-smokers to enjoy the evening cool. The selection of beers, wines and spirits is well thought-out but not overwhelming. And the jukebox. Oh, the jukebox, with its funk, R&B, jazz, classic country and '90s indie rock, sets the mood perfectly. We linger too long at most bars' jukeboxes because it's such a task to find a tolerable song, but here it's because we can't narrow our possible choices down to a manageable number. Add in performances by an eclectic mix of solo musicians, jazz combos and even stand-up comics and you've got precisely the bar Deep Ellum (and Dallas as a whole) needed.

Humperdinks NW Hwy

The easy line on Humperdink's is about size: The place serves 100-ounce beer towers and features TV screens larger than 100 inches. Those are strong qualities in a sports bar, true, but it's actually the attention to littler things that appeals most about the chain, which started on Greenville Avenue in 1976 and now has four locations in the area. The littler things include a shuttle from the Arlington location to either AT&T Stadium or The Ballpark. At $10 round trip for up to four people, it isn't history's greatest deal, but it definitely beats parking at either venue. And the pre-gaming is considerably better than cans of Bud Light — Humperdink's own brews have won Great American Beer Fest medals.

Three Links

Three Links, which took the space of La Grange in Deep Ellum just a few months after the old venue closed, hasn't had much time to establish its rock bar credentials. But it hasn't wasted a second. The co-ownership of scene staples Kris Youmans, Scott Beggs and Oliver Peck got the bar off to a strong start, and an early run of raucous shows proved the three men weren't afraid to break in their shiny new sound system with furious tests by the likes of The Dwarves. But even when there's no one onstage, Three Links is a fine place for a drink — the staff and beer selection are both superb.

When On the Eve, the new rock musical about time travelers, written by Michael Federico and Home by Hovercraft's Seth and Sean Magill, opened at the Magnolia Lounge in late 2012, it was an instant hit with critics and theatergoers. The performances were stellar but just as impressive were things director and designer Jeffrey Schmidt did to make a no-budget production look and feel like a million bucks. Long interested in sustainable design for the stage, Schmidt recycled bits and bobs of other shows' scenery, plus kids' drawings, stuff pulled from Dumpsters and, in a final swoosh of theatrical drama, a swath of parachute silk that flew over the audience like a rippling piece of blue sky. Schmidt, a longtime director and designer at Theatre Three (he directed and designed the spiffy dark comedy Enron there earlier this year), gets to enlarge On the Eve when that theater restages it for a longer run in 2014. Watch, he'll do more with less than any show you've ever seen there.

Round-Up Saloon

What makes a great honky-tonk? In fact, what makes a honky-tonk at all, instead of just a bar that plays country music sometimes? It's a few key ingredients: A spacious, well-used wooden dance floor, no fewer than three places you can buy your Lone Star and a commitment to some Wild West ideal shared by patrons and staff alike. Round-Up Saloon in Oak Lawn possesses all three. You'll see better line-dancing there than at Love and War or Billy Bob's or anywhere else around (maybe it's the lessons the place offers three nights a week), and the company's fine along any of the joint's several hundred feet of bar space. Sometimes, a cowboy just needs another cowboy.

The Travis Disco

It's new to the public and, so far, only open on Thursdays, but the space underneath the Travis Disco is already the finest place to dance in Dallas. For years reserved for VIPs, the bar maintains its feeling of exclusivity. Its nooks and crannies are filled with things like odd taxidermy and shiny wallpaper, and its main room is just the right size for smallish parties. The entrance, a door in an alley behind which hangs a ridiculous golden chandelier, makes the place immediately feel different. The programming has helped — so far it's DJ Sober's Big Bang party, which moved from Beauty Bar this summer and is already a hit at the new location.

The Kessler Theater
Mike Brooks

There are louder places in Dallas, and places with bigger names and bigger lights. But no place takes concerts as seriously as The Kessler. Its immaculate sound and respectful crowds afford every show the opportunity to be something truly memorable, and recent shows by Rebirth Brass Band, Lucinda Williams and others have added to the growing legacy of the old theater. It's been open as a music venue for a little more than four years, and there's every reason to believe the Kessler is headed for an even brighter future — this ship's got one hell of a captain in talent buyer/manager Jeff Liles, a Dallas music elder of the highest order.

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